Student photographer Chinedu Chukuka's exhibit 'Invictus' demonstrates timeless themes from the Equal Rights Movement
Student photographer Chinedu Chukuka, also known as Chino Angles, a senior in the College of Liberal Arts, displayed his photography exhibit titled 'Invictus’ at Texas State's 36th annual Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Commemoration Celebration held on January 21, 2020. The title, which means "unconquerable" and "undefeated", stems from a poem by Englishman William E. Henley.
Invictus featured a collection of Angles’ original photos inspired by Ernest Withers' photoshoot by during the Memphis Sanitation Strike of 1968. Angles wanted his exhibit to have a strong inspiration from the civil rights movement, but at the same time offer a modern perspective.
Ernest Withers is an African American photojournalist who helped spur the movement for equal rights. He covered key civil rights events like the Montgomery Bus Boycott, the Emmitt Till Murder and the Memphis Sanitation Strike.
“[Ernest Withers'] work is fascinating because it shows years and years of what African American individuals went through in the segregated South. You are aware of the pain and suffering these individuals went through by looking at his images,” Angles said. “I need people to see the emotion, the braveness, strength, ambition, and motivation of these individuals in the images.”
In Withers’ photoshoot of the Memphis Sanitation Strike, one photograph, in particular, holds a powerful message. The photo titled I Am A Man is one of the most recognizable images from the civil rights movement. Paying homage to the timeless theme of Withers’ photograph, Angles included the theme “I Am A Man” in Invictus.
“[I Am A Man] means I am just as equal as you, whether you’re white or black, Hispanic, Asian, no matter what race and ethnicity we’re all one,” Angles said. “If you look at the “How It Feels To Be Colored Me” an essay by Zora Neale Hurston, she explains how we are all like paper bags, grocery bags, brown, white, black, yellow, different colors, yet we all carry the same things inside, we all have the same contents. That’s what “I am a Man” means to me, I am not an animal, a thing, an abomination, I am a man, a human just like you.”
Angles had two major visual inspirations when creating his exhibit. One of the inspirations took form in the editing of the photographs as he used similar color grading as used by Andre D. Wagner in the film Queen and Slim.
“Queen and Slim is on my top five favorite movies because not only does it cover the issues Black individuals go through with law enforcement agencies and the police. The film encompasses love, strength, motivation, perseverance, it is overall visually pleasing,” Angles said. “I looked for the photographer, Andre D. Wagner, who took the primary images for the movie, and I loved every single one of the photos, and I decided to go that route and keep a film camera aesthetic.”
Angles said he also wanted his exhibit to pay homage to legendary Black Photographer and Director Gordon Parks by mirroring his celebrated black and white style of photography.
“Gordon Park’s black and white images keep a very smooth and natural look, and I went that direction with my pictures,” Angles said.
The creative process took a lot of work and planning according to Angles, who credits co-directors Marcus McNeil and Asanti Wiley, as well as models, Jabari Adkins, Tim Davis and Ms. Dana Fitzpatrick for their instrumental work bringing ‘Invictus’ to life. The end goal, according to Angles, was accomplished as the team of young artist were able to create an exhibit with the message they intended.
“My team and I worked hard on making sure the exhibition came to be what it [was] meant to be, Angles said.